BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Despite reservations from two council members, and Mayor Dan Hayes, the Bridgewater Township Council unanimously approved the introduction of amendments to the 2017 budget Wednesday that will eliminate an originally proposed tax increase and add additional funding for roadwork and capital improvements.
The budget, as introduced in early March, was set at $43,604,621.89 for 2017. It originally called for an increase in taxes of $17.16 for the average house assessed at $425,900.
The amendments eliminate the increase in taxes, creating a flat budget over 2016.
The amendments also include increases in investments in roads, sewers and infrastructure. It is an increase of $600,000 in investments, over the $6 million already currently included in the budget.
Hayes said he believes that instead of eliminating the tax increase, the council should take $200,000 that can be reduced in the budget and apply it directly to continued roadwork, rather than tax relief.
“Based on the actual performance of the staff, we can safely forecast $200,000 that was earlier budgeted will not longer be needed to fund the township,” he said. “I have recommended that these funds be redeployed to road work and capital improvements. We can immediately translate this money to millions of dollars in road improvements.”
Hayes said he believes it is about long range planning and investing in the businesses and residents already in town and those coming in in the future.
“The reductions in maintenance and grounds while having added to the number of buildings and acreage risks the progress we continue to make in enhancing Bridgewater,” he said. “A reduction in planning, code and zoning from prior levels reduces unnecessarily the areas we rely upon should a land challenge arise.”
The requested funding, Hayes said, is a front line defense for the township.
“I am no stranger to zero budgets, I have proposed them in the past and will again when merited in the future," he said.
“Reductions in areas reduce our ability to respond,” he added. “I have asked the council not to jeopardize these areas with cuts. I urge you to immediately authorize the redeployment of these funds to roadwork.”
Council vice president Christine Henderson Rose and council president Allen Kurdyla said they would vote in favor of introducing the amendments, but said they are still unsure whether they will support them during the public hearing.
“I think the idea of no tax increase is short sighted, and I think that it doesn’t plan for the future,” Rose said.
Bridgewater resident Lori Colelli said she appreciates the council’s consideration of a zero tax increase.
“Every year our taxes go up, and I’m here today to encourage this council not to raise taxes,” she said. “The world is changing, and, better yet, it is transforming. Corporations are asked to do more with less with no additional funding.”
“The community is asking the council to view the budget with a similar lens,” she added. “Review the budget deeper and wider, and focus on changing ways Bridgewater uses its funds.”
Councilman Filipe Pedroso, who served on the finance committee, said he believes this is a balanced proposal for the township, with an ability to make cuts that reach almost $600,000.
“We will allocate additional funds for roads, which will result in $600,000 in additional money allocated to road improvements,” he said. “And we were able to identify $600,000 in a credit we are getting back, and we can apply it for capital improvements to improve infrastructure in Bridgewater.”
“This budget increases roads and capital improvements infrastructure up to $1.2 million, and saves taxpayers dollars,” he added. “I believe strongly the budget can sustain these numbers and I am glad to vote in favor of it.”
Pedroso said that $1.2 million is an additional amount over what as already introduced. The mayor, he said, had already recommended an additional $6 million in roadwork and capital improvements in the original budget.
“So we can have a potential of $7.2 million applied to roads and capital improvements,” he said.
Pedroso said after the meeting that the mayor and council have increased the road repair budget every year over the past few years.
“Fixing roads has been a priority for a few years already,” he said. “But with the additional resources that we are now able to allocate, residents can be assured that not only did their governing body deliver by providing them tax relief, but also increased the road and infrastructure budget to levels that we had never come close to before.”
Councilman Matthew Moench also supported the amendments.
“It’s become too commonplace simply to accept rising taxes as a way of life, and it is too easy for elected officials to simply solve problems by raising taxes,” he said after the meeting. “Our residents demand better and deserve better, and, this year, through a closer review of the budget, we are able to eliminate the tax increase and keep taxes stable.”
The introduction of the amendments passed by a vote of 4–0 (councilman Howard Norgalis was unable to attend the meeting), and a public hearing will be held May 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the municipal building on Commons Way.